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What Can the Timberwolves Learn From Playoff Teams?

After the first few games of the playoffs, what can the Wolves learn?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a quiet time in terms of Wolves news, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything important to take away from the basketball that is still being played. Each of the teams that are still playing are in the postseason for a reason. For most teams, that reason is a specific strength that they’ve ridden into the postseason. The one main exception is the Pistons who are just fortunate to play in the Eastern Conference.

Anyways, the NBA is, as they say, a “copy-cat league.” If something is successful for one team, it’s going to get copied by other teams. There are one obvious disclaimers, though. For the Wolves to take away anything from these teams, they have to either a) have the personnel to replicate a teams strength(s) or b) have a feasible route to get that personnel. For example, we’re not going to see a bunch of teams copy Houston’s offensive system. There is only one James Harden, which makes it impossible to copy what Houston does offensively.

Without further ado, let’s get into what the Wolves can steal and/or copy from this year’s playoff teams. Not every playoff team will be represented here, just the ones that I believe the Wolves can take something important from.

Milwaukee Bucks: Building Around Your Superstar 101

There are a lot of reasons for the Bucks massive improvement from fringe playoff team to legitimate NBA title contender. Mike Budenholzer’s arrival is certainly near or at the top of the list. Right with that, though, is the way the roster has been constructed around Giannis Antetokounmpo. They’ve surrounded him with shooters, solid secondary ball-handlers, and more versatile defenders. All of this has worked nicely to negate the one weakness in Giannis’ game (shooting) while easing some of the offensive creation load as well as forming a truly terrifying defense. The roster fits perfectly.

For the Wolves, the question is how to fully maximize the roster to accent Karl-Anthony Towns’ strengths while covering up his deficiencies. When healthy, this current team should be able to cover up most of KAT’s weaknesses, namely defensively. The best way I’ve seen Towns’ defense described was that he’s capable of being part of a good defense and not mess it up, but if the play in front of him is poor, he’s going to be a disaster.

We saw Towns, and the Wolves’ defense in general, be very good once Robert Covington came over from Philadelphia. With a solid wing pairing in front of him (RoCo/Okogie), KAT can be just fine defensively.

On the other end of the floor, the one piece they are really missing in terms of how to maximize KAT is a reliable perimeter creator to pair with him. A downhill pick-and-roll threat who can make open jump shots, flanked by Covington and Saric, would be beautiful to see. I’ve mentioned this a few times before, but this is why Minnesota needs to be aggressive in their approach to the draft. They have the majority of a competent supporting cast, but are missing that one guy who can be a consistent and efficient scorer/playmaker from the perimeter.

Toronto Raptors: Wings, Wings, and More Wings

Words like “switchability” and “versatility” have really become buzzwords recently that aren’t always applied correctly. In Toronto, though, these words fit perfectly. The Raptors have stockpiled athletic, rangy wing players who can guard multiple positions in an effort to disrupt opposing offenses. Between Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby, and Danny Green, Toronto has a litany of top-flight defenders they can throw at any opponents’ best scorer. That pays off big time come postseason.

In Minnesota, there’s a pretty good chance the Wolves are building a “lite” version on this type of wing depth. The Wolves wing players aren’t as dynamic offensively as Kawhi Leonard or Pascal Siakam, but the defensive malleability is apparent. In RoCo, Okogie, and KBD the Wolves have a trio of wing players who can switch on to anyone and guard multiple positions. There’s not a lot of offense in that group, but man, the defensive potential with those guys is sky high. If Andrew Wiggins could ever just be average on that end, this wing group could be one of the best in the league.

Houston Rockets: Front Office/Head Coach Alignment

This is, quite literally, something the Wolves have never had. It’s also one of the most underrated things about what makes the Houston Rockets so great. It’s why they’ve won more than 50 games in 5 of the past 6 seasons. Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni are so completely in sync about the direction of their franchise. D’Antoni has a vision for what his team should look like on the floor, and in turn, Morey goes out and finds players that fit exactly what D’Antoni wants to do. That’s how you maximize your roster.

For the Wolves to accomplish this, it might take a minor miracle. The chances of the Wolves making a good hire in the front office this summer and alternatively making a good decision at the head coaching position is ... not likely. It’s not to say that they can’t do it, but they’ve just literally never accomplished something like this. There’s never been a successful harmony between the front office and coach that has really had meaningful results on the court.

Yeah, the playoff runs with KG were fun, but I’d argue that was more just due to his sheer dominance and greatness than anything the front office did. The Wolves can become more than the sum of their parts with a coaching staff and front office that work together in harmony. Above all else, you could argue that this is the single most important thing to any NBA franchise.

** Editors Note: Maybe the Wolves will make a good hire?

Philadelphia 76ers: Depth Matters

Yeah, I know Philly dominated Game Two against Brooklyn. Congrats, they didn’t go down 0-2 at home. It’s become obvious that Philly has a glaring weakness in their depth. They struggle to play more than 6 or 7 players on a good day. It probably won’t catch up to them in the first round, but moving forward, it likely will. They sold much of their depth to acquire more star players. A lot of times, when you have a bunch of stars you just assume the talent will figure it out. When you have several B or B+ level stars, though, there’s diminishing returns on adding players like that.

Now, in Minnesota, the Wolves do need to find a way to acquire a second star. It feels unlikely, if not impossible, that this will happen in a trade, so they have to look to the draft. Beyond that though, the Wolves can’t neglect their bench in the ways they have in the past. There needs to be a unit that can at least hold it’s own when Towns and Covington need a breather during a game. In theory, a unit headed by Tyus Jones and (maybe?) Andrew Wiggins as the 6th man/scorer could be okay?

They have a lot of role players who figure to be decent bench players as they grow. The question will be whether or not they have enough scoring coming off the bench without bleeding points to opposing benches.

One important note to make here: players have to want to come to Minnesota. The Twin Cities will never be a destination for the top free agents. With a more competent looking front office, maybe they can convince some solid bench contributors to run with the Pups.

Brooklyn Nets: There’s Always a Way Out

This has less to do with specific front office maneuvering than the rest of the things we’ve talked about, but it’s important to note nonetheless. It would have been very easy for Brooklyn to just scrap the past five years and be a hopeless franchise. The trade they made with Boston was so, so bad and it obviously set them back many years. However, they managed to take some calculated risks and were able to combine their superior scouting and player development departments to find a way out.

All this is really meant to say is that there’s always a way to improve your team. Brooklyn has formed a playoff roster (albeit in the East) practically without any of their own first round picks over the past 100 years. Sure, the Nets probably aren’t going to be a massive threat to anyone in the playoffs. They do, however, have a litany of intriguing, good, young players. That’s worth something. Now that they finally can start using their own first round picks, there’s more than one path forward for them.

That’s what would be outstanding for the Wolves: creating options. Yeah, the bad contracts will hamstring them moving forward, but good franchises get creative and work around their mistakes. Whoever takes the lead in the Wolves front office will need to be creative if this team is to reach it’s maximum potential. There are a lot of intriguing pieces here that can do some damage if the organization is able to work around the past mistakes.